JBL Bar 5.0 Soundbar Review
- Expansive delivery
- Automatic calibration
- Dolby Atmos support
- Sleek design and good finish
- Decent connectivity
- Simple but effective remote control
- Competitive pricing
The not so good
- Bass is limited
- Front-heavy delivery
- No real overhead channels
- No DTS support
- No HDR10+ pass through
What is the JBL Bar 5.0?
The JBL Bar 5.0 is a single unit soundbar that employs five channels and the company's MultiBeam technology to produce a more expansive soundstage. This is achieved with three front channels and two side channels, while psychoacoustic processing delivers virtual Dolby Atmos.
There's support for Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2, and Alexa Multi-Room Music (MRM), all of which make set-up easier, plus there's the Automatic MultiBeam Calibration (AMC) feature. There's an HDMI input that passes 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision, and and an HDMI output with support for eARC.
The Bar 5.0 can be picked up for £249 as at the time of writing (December 2021), so if it sounds as good as it looks, this sleek soundbar could be ideal for anyone who's looking to quickly and easily boost the sonic performance of their big-screen TV without breaking the bank.
Design, Control and Connections
The JBL Bar 5.0 uses a sleek design with curved corners and an attractive matte black finish. There's a metal grille around the sides and front, while the metal top has grilles where the passive radiators are located, along with some basic controls in the middle. At the front right there's a four-character display, which shows the volume level, the input, the sound format, and any updates.
The sleek design shouldn't block your screen, the cabinet is well-made, the remote control is simple but effective, and the connectivity is decent
The Bar 5.0 can be stand or wall mounted, and JBL includes brackets, spacers, screws and a template for the latter. The soundbar shouldn't block the screen when stand mounted in front of a TV because it measures 709 x 58 x 101mm (WxHxD), and it also weighs in at 2.8kg. In the box you'll find a remote control and batteries, a power cord, a quick start guide, and an HDMI cable.
The touch-sensitive buttons found on the top of the soundbar provide basic control, allowing you to turn the unit on and off, adjust the volume up and down, and cycle through the inputs (TV, HDMI and Bluetooth).
The included remote control is also finished in matte black, and while simple, it gets the job done. At the top is the on/off button, and beneath that are buttons for selecting TV (eARC, ARC or optical digital), HDMI, or Bluetooth. There's also a button for turning the Dolby Atmos upmixing on and off, along with volume up and down controls and a mute button. There is no remote app available, but thanks to CEC you can use your TV remote to adjust the volume on the soundbar.
The connections are located in a recessed area at the centre rear of the unit, and here you'll find an HDMI 2.0 input and an HDMI 2.0 output. Both connections support 4K Ultra HD, HDCP 2.3, CEC, HDR10, HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) and Dolby Vision (but not HDR10+), while the output also supports eARC (enhanced audio return channel). There's a USB port and an optical digital input, along with an Ethernet port for a wired connection. The Bar 5.0 includes dual-band Wi-Fi, with support for Chromecast, AirPlay 2, and Alexa Multi-Room Music (MRM) wireless connectivity, along with Bluetooth 4.2 if you prefer.
Features and Specs
The JBL Bar 5.0 uses the company's proprietary MultiBeam technology to bounce sounds around the room and create a bigger and more expansive soundstage. It also combines these sound beams with psychoacoustic processing to decode Dolby Atmos. However, since it doesn't use upward-firing drivers to create the overhead channels, the immersive audio is more virtual.
The soundbar contains five identical speakers, three facing forwards for the front left, right and centre channels, and one at each end firing sideways. These speakers are composed of 48 x 80mm racetrack drivers, and each has 50W of amplification. There are also four 75mm passive radiators, two on each side with one facing upwards and one downwards. The Bar 5.0 has a claimed frequency response of 50Hz to 20kHz.
The Bar 5.0 supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos, along with two-channel and 5.1-channel PCM. Unfortunately there's no support for DTS, which makes this soundbar less-than-ideal for anyone with a big Blu-ray collection. However, if you're primarily interested in streaming, DVD and most 4K discs, which are dominated by Dolby, this will be less of an issue.
Set-up and Operation
The JBL Bar 5.0 is incredibly easy to set-up, and all you need to do is position it in front of the TV (stand or wall mount – the choice is your's) and then connect it up. If you're planning to just run everything through the TV, then simply connect via HDMI-ARC/eARC and the rest should happen automatically. If your TV doesn't support ARC, you can use the optical digital connection instead, but you'll lose Dolby Atmos support and won't be able to use your TV remote to control the volume on the soundbar. You can also connect an HDMI source directly to the Bar 5.0, rather than running everything through the TV first.
Once you've connected all your physical sources, and assuming you're not using the Ethernet port, it's time to setup the Wi-Fi. You can do this from a smart device with the Google Home app or AirPlay for Apple users, and if you have an Alexa Echo you can also do it via the device itself or the Alexa app. If you want to connect with Bluetooth as well, just hold down that input for three seconds and pair using the other device.
Set-up is easy, with a choice of methods to connect to the Wi-Fi, an automatic calibration feature, and a control for adjusting the bass level
Once connected to the Wi-Fi, any firmware updates will be added automatically (although this can also be done with a USB drive if necessary). To run the Automatic MultiBeam Calibration (AMC) feature, you just hold down the HDMI button on the remote for five seconds. The feature will then automatically run through the room calibration test tones and correct accordingly. Finally, if you hold down the TV button for three seconds you can adjust the bass level. The default level is three, but you can use the volume up and down buttons to set the level from one to five.
The JBL Bar 5.0 delivers an energetic performance, thanks to five decent speakers and plenty of amplification power. As a result, watching TV is an enjoyable experience, with significantly better audio than just about any TV. The centre channel produces clear and focused dialogue, while the left and right channels create good stereo separation with two-channel music.
The four built-in passive radiators generate some decent bass, although expectations need to be managed. The Bar 5.0 doesn't go as deep as a soundbar with a separate subwoofer, but JBL's claims of extension down to 50Hz don't seem ridiculous. The MultiBeam tech also results in a soundstage with width and height, sounding much bigger than the Bar 5.0's compact size suggests.
As a result, you could pair the JBL with a fairly big screen size without this soundbar embarrassing itself. We tested it with an LG 65C1 and the soundstage was certainly big enough to complement this TV, and you could drive it at loud volumes without the audio distorting. However, given the Bar 5.0's compact dimensions, it's obviously designed for smaller rooms and screens up to 55 inches.
The soundstage feels balanced, and delivery is clean. Bass could be deeper and Atmos more immersive, but it sounds great for the price
In general, the delivery is clean and uncluttered in the mid-range, while the higher frequencies are free of sibilance. The overall delivery never feels strained and remains cohesive, even with a complex mix. The soundstage always seems balanced, with neither the highs nor the lows becoming too dominant, and you can adjust the bass levels to smooth out the overall delivery. The Automatic MultiBeam Calibration is quite subtle in its effect, but everything seems a bit tighter after running this feature.
The Dolby Atmos support is generally quite good, with a definite feeling of greater dimensionality. However, since this is a virtual experience that uses psychoacoustic processing rather than upward-firing drivers, you never really hear overhead channels. The lack of surrounds mean you also lack any real sense of immersion, with a very front-heavy soundstage.
Watching shows like Cowboy Bebop on Netflix and Hawkeye on Disney+ does produce some fun Dolby Atmos effects, and there are some nice object-based moments in Godzilla vs Kong. There is definitely a greater sense of scale as the two titans battle it out in Hong Kong, but this soundtrack also betrays the lack of deep bass and the hole in the rear of the sound field.
The Dolby Atmos upmixing is less successful, and best avoided with the majority of content, while the lack of DTS support will undoubtedly disappoint anyone with a large collection of Blu-rays. This problem is compounded by the growing number of TVs that also no longer support DTS, but ultimately this just demonstrates how dominant Dolby is in the era of streaming.
JBL Bar 5.0 Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?
The JBL Bar 5.0 is an accomplished soundbar that delivers almost everything at an affordable price. The design is sleek, and the build quality good, with a proper display rather than an incomprehensible series of lights. There's a choice of stand or wall mounting, with everything you need in the box. The simple remote is effective, and while there's no control app, thanks to HDMI-CEC you can use your TV zapper.
Installation is easy, and with eARC you can simply connect everything through the TV and send all the audio back via a single HDMI connection. There's also an HDMI input, which passes Dolby Vision but not HDR10+, along with an optical digital input, an Ethernet port, a USB connector, Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi that you can set-up using Chromecast, AirPlay or Alexa Multi-Room Music (MRM).
The Automatic MultiBeam Calibration feature corrects the audio at the touch of a button, and you can also adjust the bass level of the four built-in passive radiators. The combination of three front speakers, two side speakers, and the MutliBeam tech result in a soundstage with width and height. The centre channel ensures clear dialogue, while music is effectively spread across the front of the room.
The four passive radiators provide some bass, but expectations should be managed because the Bar 5.0 won't go as deep as a soundbar with a separate sub. The same is true with Dolby Atmos, and while the processing creates a greater sense of dimensionality, it's not as immersive as using upward-firing speakers. The lack of DTS support is also disappointing for anyone with a big collection of Blu-rays.
However, as an affordable single-unit soundbar that quickly and easily upgrades your TV's sound quality, while also adding Dolby Atmos, the JBL Bar 5.0 offers genuine value and a capable performance.
What are my alternatives?
The Polk Signa S3 is a good choice if you're not bothered about Dolby Atmos, with a very capable 2.1-channel system that includes a separate wireless subwoofer for deeper bass. It costs about the same, there's support for Dolby Digital and DTS, and while there's no centre speaker, the two front channels handle dialogue well and sound particularly good with music.
If you can stretch your budget to £385 you can pick up the excellent Sony HT-G700. This soundbar offers the best of all worlds, with three powerful front channels, a separate wireless subwoofer for deeper bass, and decoding for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. There's no Wi-Fi, which is surprising, and like the Bar 5.0 it uses psychoacoustic processing to deliver immersive audio, but otherwise this is a very capable soundbar.
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